Athena weathers delay for new track

Matt Archer with Beynon Sports helps measure off the interval markings on Athena’s new track.

Matt Archer with Beynon Sports helps measure off the interval markings on Athena’s new track. Photo by Greg Lehman.

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ATHENA — After months of delay and years of dire need, the track at Athena Elementary is finally getting renovated.

Although, to be fair, renovation is probably an understatement.

Vulnerable to weeds and ruts, the previous dirt oval was inadequate for high school track and field meets and a danger to runners in general. That all changed this fall, however, with the installation of a new all-weather, rubberized track. But not without a few hiccups along the way.

The track, which cost $302,000, was initially supposed to be completed before the beginning of the school year, but the project was delayed when construction crews unearthed a swampy mess under the old track and had to wait for it to dry. The completion date was pushed back first to Oct. 1, then again to Friday, when the track was finally completed.

There was a silver lining to the delay, however.

The track the district chose couldn’t be installed in cool fall weather. Instead, the district got an uprated track at no additional cost, the “BSS 50,” which is 3 millimeters thicker than the one planned for.

“It would dry, and be a good long-standing solution for them,” said Gary Logsdon, a vice president at Beynon Sports, the track manufacturer.

The track is more resilient and should last 10-12 years before needing to be resurfaced, Logsdon said.

Tom Munck, coach of the Athena-Weston Lightning youth track program, said the new track was sorely needed and a long time in coming.

“It was a bit of an eyesore before I was even involved with track,” said Munck, who began coaching the youth program in 2007. “And then once you get involved with track, you realize how much of a nightmare it is.”

Not only was the track unsuitable for a high school meet, it was a hazard for all runners.

“Certainly there were holes and you could twist ankles,” Munck said, “but the other thing is weeds would grow in and you’d get these big lumps in the middle of the track. It certainly was a danger.”

Another problem with the old track is that wet weather could render it unusable for weeks at a time. Rain or snow would soften the track and runners created large ruts — not to mention the competitive challenge of slogging through a wet track.

“It made it really challenging to have a track club at all,” Munck said.

In addition to being available almost year-round, the new track will allow runners to practice on the same style of surface on which they compete, Munck said. And the track will be open to the community to use as well.

“It’s going to be a great deal for the track program in general in Athena,” Munck said.

The new addition is regulation size and eight lanes across, meaning Weston-McEwen High School and the middle school will be able to host district track meets for the first time.

The vast majority of the funding for the project came from an Athena-Weston Education and Resource Enhancement grant. The AWERE grant is funded by NextEra Energy Resources, a wind energy company.

The Wildhorse Foundation also contributed $15,000 for the project.

Superintendent Jerry Copeland said the district has long-term plans for new fencing around the track, equipment such as hurdles and high jump bars and stands.

Ben Wentz can be reached at benwentz@wwub.com or 526-8315.

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